Back on April 20, Michael Norman clocked the sixth-fastest 400m in history (43.45 seconds) and the fastest-ever both for somebody so young (21 years old) and this early in a calendar year. With that, he earned the right to utter the number 42.
“Running sub-43 is one of my goals,” Norman said last week. “Given how the season’s progressing, how deep the competition is around the world, I feel like running sub-43 is going to happen if not this year, then the following year.”
Norman actually doesn’t appear to have much competition at the moment. He races roommate Rai Benjamin at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Stockholm (2 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), but Benjamin’s primary event is the 400m hurdles.
World-record holder Wayde van Niekerk voiced the same 42-second goal for most of the time since he won the Rio Olympics in 43.03. But the South African has competed just once since the August 2017 World Championships. He missed all of 2018 after tearing a meniscus and ACL in an October 2017 celebrity tag rugby match. This week, Van Niekerk could not give a specific answer when asked to name his next race.
Likewise, 2012 Olympic champion and Rio silver medalist Kirani James raced just three times in the last two years. James, diagnosed with Graves’ disease, said last month that he hoped to return to competition later this season.
So Norman, for now, owns the spotlight.
“The 400m improvement was a shocking thing to me,” he said last week, after lowering his personal best from 44.6 to 43.45 in the last year. Nobody else has bettered 43.62 since van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson‘s record in Rio.
Here are the Stockholm entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):
10:30 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:30 — Women’s Shot Put
11 — Women’s Pole Vault
12:25 p.m. — Women’s Discus
1:35 — Men’s Long Jump
1:40 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m
2:08 — Women’s High Jump
2:11 — Women’s 1500m
2:22 — Men’s 200m
2:30 — Women’s 5000m
2:52 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:56 — Men’s Discus
3:02 — Men’s 800m
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:30 — Women’s 200m
3:40 — Men’s 1500m
3:52 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
4:05 — Men’s 10,000m
Here are five events to watch:
Women’s Discus — 12:25 p.m.
Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic makes her season debut against the Rio silver and bronze medalists. The Croat has lost just five times at Diamond League meets since the start of 2012, but Perkovic was beaten by Cuban Yaime Perez in two of her last three meets of 2018, according to Tilastopaja.org.
Men’s Long Jump — 1:35 p.m.
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria returns to the scene of one of the viral moments of the 2018 season, when he nearly jumped out of the pit in Stockholm. The 20-year-old hasn’t competed outdoors on the top international level since, only adding to the intrigue of Thursday’s showdown with Olympic champion Jeff Henderson and world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa. No man has jumped within eight inches of the world record since Mike Powell set it in 1991.
Men’s 400m — 2:03 p.m.
Norman has beaten Benjamin in all five of their head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja. That includes that April 20 race in California, where Norman ran 43.45 and Benjamin was a distant second in 44.31. If Norman can go faster in Stockholm, he’ll break a tie with 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and become the fourth-fastest man in history behind van Niekerk, Johnson and Butch Reynolds. But the four fastest times in history were all clocked in August. Norman has four more months until he plans to peak at the world championships.
Women’s 200m — 3:30 p.m.
Olympic champion (Elaine Thompson) vs. world champion (Dafne Schippers) vs. fastest woman of 2018 (Dina Asher-Smith) vs. U.S. champion (Jenna Prandini). The Brit Asher-Smith has to be the favorite given she was the only woman to break 22 seconds last year (21.89) and owns the world’s fastest time this season.
Men’s 1500m — 3:40 p.m.
All three Ingebrigtsen brothers are in this event. As are the current kings of the mile — Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi. Jakob Ingebrigtsen, youngest of the Norwegian siblings at age 18, is already the youngest sub-four-minute miler in history. Last year, he ran a 3:52 mile at the Pre Classic and then swept the European 1500m and 3000m titles. But only once has an Ingebrigtsen bettered Cheruiyot or Manangoi in a race of any distance (Filip Ingebrigtsen placing fifth to Manangoi’s 10th at the 2016 Diamond League Finals 1500m), according to Tilastopaja.
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